Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9) said the 2011-12 session of the General Assembly resulted in the enactment of major new laws to improve Pennsylvania’s job climate, implement significant education reforms, increase governmental accountability and transparency, and make our state a safer place – among many other accomplishments.
“This session’s accomplishments include many dramatic and far-reaching changes which will have positive impacts on Pennsylvania residents for decades to come,” said Senator Pileggi. “I’m especially proud of the members of the Senate Republican Caucus, all of whom led the charge on seeing that important issues made it to the Governor’s desk.”
The state budgets for FY 2011-12 and FY 2012-13 held the line on state spending and continued the phase-out of the job-crushing Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, in addition to eliminating the death tax on family farms, updating Pennsylvania’s successful film tax credit program and creating a new tax credit to encourage the renovation of historic buildings. In addition, the Fair Share Act reformed Pennsylvania’s “joint and several liability” law.
The Keystone Opportunity Zone program, which encourages job growth, was expanded earlier this year, and Pennsylvania’s $3.5 billion unemployment compensation fund debt was resolved. A new law encourages public-private partnerships in transportation projects.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program – which has provided scholarships for thousands of students and funding for innovative programs in traditional public schools – was expanded, and the new Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit is giving fresh opportunities to students trapped in failing schools. Other new laws empower taxpayers to better control school tax increases, impose new accountability standards on school superintendent contracts, and require school districts to make additional disclosures related to Title IX compliance.
In December, the PennWATCH online budget database will be unveiled, giving taxpayers unprecedented ability to review state government spending. “If it’s implemented properly, the PennWATCH website will be another major step forward in making government more transparent,” said Senator Pileggi, who authored the widely praised 2008 rewrite of Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law.
Other government reforms completed in the current session include strengthening penalties for violating the Sunshine Law, increasing public access to the logs for state-owned planes, and requiring that verifiable data is used in the process of developing new regulations.
In the fight against crime, bills to crack down on straw gun purchasers and make it a crime to recruit members into street gangs are on Governor Corbett’s desk, awaiting his signature. “Both of these bills won broad bipartisan support, and for good reason,” said Senator Pileggi. “Gang violence and illegal gun sales have devastating consequences, and we have given prosecutors the tools they need to prosecute the perpetrators more effectively.”
New laws also prohibit texting while driving, ban the sale of so-called “bath salts” and other synthetic drugs, and make substantial reforms to Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system in response to the Luzerne County “kids for cash” judicial scandal. The General Assembly also created the Task Force on Child Protection to conduct a comprehensive review of Pennsylvania law and make recommendations, which are due at the end of November.
A series of groundbreaking prison reforms were also approved, with the savings generated by those changes being used for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which will help reduce criminal recidivism rates across the state. And a new law increased state oversight and regulation of abortion clinics in light of the horrors revealed by the Gosnell grand jury report.
Senator Pileggi also hailed the passage of laws to better diagnose and treat student-athletes who suffer concussions and protect Good Samaritans who render aid in emergency situations.
Last year, a new law was enacted to regulate the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry to improve gas well safety standards, and an impact fee was imposed on drillers. To date, that fee has generated more than $200 million for conservation districts, the state’s Environmental Stewardship Fund, water and sewer projects, local open space projects, and more.
Senator Pileggi also pointed to laws enacted to fight the problem of human trafficking and prohibit inhumane methods of animal euthanasia, and the creation of a new source of funding for the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, in addition to the streamlining of state government by merging standalone boards and commissions with existing executive branch departments.
“Despite the many accomplishments of this productive legislative session, we’re fully aware that the Commonwealth faces many difficult challenges which will require legislative solutions,” said Senator Pileggi.
He said substantial work has been done this year to develop legislation related to much-needed public employee pension reforms, comprehensive transportation funding, charter school reforms, special education funding, improvements to the Open Records Law, and expanding access to public health clinics – all issues the General Assembly and the Governor should tackle in 2013.
“In the New Year, we must continue working to make Pennsylvania an even more competitive environment for job creators, and to improve our communities,” said Senator Pileggi.